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Domino is
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mix or the color
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final print."

Listen to
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Friday, March 27, 2009

This is the full cover of the bestseller seen in the woman's apartment (with a bookmark hanging out the top) in Greetings. As a bestseller, the book and its cover were widely known at the time of Greetings' release. The Boston Strangler earned author Gerold Frank the Edgar Allen Poe Award in 1967 for Best Fact Crime Book from the Mystery Writers of America. It can be surmised that the juxtaposition (see the first photo in the post from yesterday) of the naked woman waiting and the cover of this book would have been a jolt to the average viewer in 1968 (even if they had not read the book, being a bestseller, most would have been familiar with the cover all over store shelves everywhere). A bookmark hanging out of the book in the still from Greetings indicates that the woman is reading the book, yet, via a computer date, she trusts a virtual stranger, letting him into her own apartment and allowing him to roam around freely.

Posted by Geoff at 2:32 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2009 11:33 PM CDT
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

After reading David Greven's terrific new essay on male bonding in Brian De Palma's Greetings, Hi, Mom!, and Get To Know Your Rabbit (published in the current issue of Genders), I noticed that Greven somehow had seemed to overlook a key plot point in Greetings that I would love to see him riff on (more on that later). Curious, I pulled out my DVD of the film to check on said plot point, and discovered something rather astonishing-- namely The Boston Strangler, paperback edition of the Gerold Frank true crime book, dead center in the frame from Greetings as shown above. Astonishing, of course, because De Palma is currently preparing to film Susan Kelly's more recent investigation of the case as presented in her book, The Boston Stranglers, and because I don't recall noticing this title in Greetings before. However, you can bet that De Palma did-- check out the countershot below:

Note some key differences between the two reverse shots, beginning with the way the three books are angled in the second shot, so that the viewer can clearly see the cover of The Boston Strangler. Also notice how in the first shot, there appears to be a long row filled with books behind Strangler, while in the reverse shot, there are only three key books and what looks like a glass jar to the left of those. Keeping in mind that De Palma edited as well as directed Greetings with a decidedly loose, freewheeling style, the lack of proper continuity in the shots echoes the purposely off-kilter jump-cuts used in various scenes throughout the film (Greven's essay delves into one of these scenes, where a patron in a clothing store switches places back-and-forth with the store's proprieter via these sort of surreal jump-cuts). Frank's account of the Boston Strangler case was first published in 1966, two years before Greetings was released. Richard Fleischer's film, based on Frank's book and starring Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda (and featuring plenty of split-screens), was released a mere two months prior to Greetings.

One can guess that the Boston Strangler case was still a fairly frenzied affair in 1968. Placing that book square in the center on the big screen, next to a naked woman who has left her bedroom door open, allowing total access to a man she's only just met through a computer dating service, must have been a howl of a joke in the movie theater in 1968 (especially with the film version about to hit screens). It would have been key to the joke to have the book still noticeable from the front cover in the reverse shot, as Paul (Jonathan Warden) looks in, gazes upon the woman's naked body, smiles and then decides not to bother with her. In the second shot above, De Palma has placed two other key books on the shelf: Naked Came I, which directly comments on the scene at hand, in which the woman, who has just berated Paul for not being prepared for anything other than sex, retreats to her bedroom and humbles (compromises) herself by taking off all of her clothes and lying in wait (the book's title indirectly echoes the Book of Job, which would figure prominently in De Palma's Mission: Impossible when Ethan Hunt pulls the Holy Bible off the book shelf); and, among the many film-themed books and magazines diligently placed throughout Greetings, I Lost It At The Movies, the first collection of film reviews by Pauline Kael (in the shot at right is another key film book placement within Greetings).


So on to the plot point that led me to rewatch this sequence in the first place, which appears to have gone overlooked in paragraph #38, below, of Greven's essay (I have emphasized two key phrases in bold):

At one point, Paul goes to the home of a woman with whom he has a computer-dating-arranged assignation. During their conversation, he reveals that he doesn't own a car and that he's already eaten; he makes it clearly obvious that he is only there for sex. Brassy and demanding, she upbraids him for being ill-prepared for their date. Like a general describing the battle-readiness of his troops, she points to specific elements of her romantic-evening-ready attire: "You see these shoes? 'Socialites'!" He wilts visibly under the glare of her scorn. She storms off. Yet when Paul goes to check in on her, she is lying in her bed, silent, naked. He walks off, and away. More than any other, a profound sense of loneliness, of a lack of connection, permeates this scene. This sense of cold isolation also tinges the scene in which Lloyd, feverishly pontificating over the JFK assassination and his multiple conspiracy theories, uses the silent, naked body of the woman he is in bed with as a living canvas, turning her over, and back again, drawing strategic sites of the grassy knoll upon her body. Like a cadaver, her body mutely complies with his feverish demands and doodling. The necrophiliac quality of this scene provides further evidence for the lack of relatedness between men and women, even in a scene that establishes physical intimacy between them. (The necrophilia here is too half-hearted to vie for the status of perversity.)

What Greven seems to have overlooked is that it is the same woman in each scenario he describes above-- Paul leaves the woman lying naked on the bed, and goes outside to call Lloyd from a payphone. Paul tells Lloyd that his computer date did not seem like a good match for him, but that "since you're one of my best friends," maybe she would be a good match for Lloyd. The film then cuts to a shot of another strategically placed piece of literature: the cover of Film Comment...

The camera slowly pulls back to reveal the film magazine, with its cover story about the JFK assassination, covering the pelvis of the woman as Lloyd can be seen manipulating her stiff, motionless, and otherwise naked body. A viewer (especially one watching in 1968) might at first imagine that a Boston Strangler type of situation is in process here as the camera pulls back and sees that the potential strangler has been replaced by Lloyd's JFK obsessions. But instead of a lifeless corpse, we eventually find that the woman is merely sleeping, apparently having already been sexually satisfied (in her slumber, when Lloyd needs her to turn around to put a shirt on her, he kisses her once or twice on the neck until she dozingly complies). What is implicit in this sequence of scenes is that Paul has left the woman in her apartment, and allowed his friend Lloyd to take over (did Lloyd have to knock, or did Paul leave the door unlocked?). What makes it a key point for Greven's highly insightful essay is that it may further complicate his central questions of male bonding and the treatment of women within the homosocial sphere.

I have a couple more things to post about Greetings-- watch for two more posts this weekend...

Posted by Geoff at 3:13 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, March 27, 2009 12:15 PM CDT
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Monday, March 23, 2009
In an article in yesterday's Guardian, Eva Wiseman looks back at Michael Lehmann's Heathers, and links it to Brian De Palma's Carrie as a film about a teenage girl with issues, in contrast to typical films about teenage misfits (such as The Breakfast Club). Wiseman quotes Dr Catherine Grant, "an art historian and specialist in the representation of female adolescence in art," about Carrie. "She represents the potential of repressed sexuality that is often attributed to teenage girls," Grant told Wiseman, "and the conflict that occurs between being a 'nice girl' and a sexual adult. She literally explodes with her repressed teen powers." Wiseman then writes, "While Carrie White's budding telekinesis and eventual breakdown are a little way removed from our own secondary school experiences, we share her issues: self-hate, female destruction, sexual frustration, awkward hair."

Wiseman also quotes feminist theorist Kate Random Love, who states that the teenage girl on film "is a wonderful barometer for measuring a culture's fantasies and anxieties about femininity at the time. For example, it's surely no coincidence that in the 1970s - the decade that began with the second wave of feminist uprisings - the most notable representations of female adolescence were in horror films such as The Exorcist and Carrie. Femininity itself became a monstrous force rising up with the potential to destroy everything."

Posted by Geoff at 11:38 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, March 23, 2009 11:39 PM CDT
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A few more shots of Brian De Palma and, separately, Paul Williams, have been posted on the production page at the Swan Archives. Click on any of the photos to see a larger version. The pics show De Palma sitting in his director chair, observing and thinking, and others show Williams looking lighthearted as he sits and talks with others on the set.

Posted by Geoff at 11:00 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


In the YouTube video posted above (which we found thanks to Akahan!), you can see Edgar Wright introducing Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise Sunday night at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. As part of the intro, Wright read an e-mail message that Paul Williams composed specifically for the audience that night. The e-mail from Williams read, in part, "Mr. De Palma and I are about to begin work on the stage version of Phantom Of The Paradise at last, and it will be ready for viewing… God knows, not I." In December of 2007, at an Edgar Wright presentation of the De Palma film in Los Angeles, Williams revealed that a stage version of Phantom was in the works, and that De Palma and producer Edward Pressman were involved. Pressman is developing a remake of the film, and it is speculated that the film remake would follow a successful stage version.

Williams has been trying to get a stage version together with De Palma since the 1980s, and De Palma had even discussed the project earlier this decade with Antonio Banderas, who had just appeared in De Palma's Femme Fatale, and had just had recent success on Broadway with the musical Nine. De Palma was set to direct a workshop for a stage version at the beginning of 2007, but then got involved in making Redacted instead. The news that Williams and De Palma are getting set to delve into the project is exciting, but note also that the halls of Valhalla Motion Pictures are currently buzzing with preparation for De Palma's next film project, The Boston Stranglers, which is due to go into production late this spring.

De Palma a la Mod reader Ryan Clark discovered a YouTube clip of Williams singing Phantom's closing number, The Hell Of It, on a Halloween episode of the 1970s TV show The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. The clip has also long been available for viewing as an "Easter Egg" at The Swan Archives by clicking any of the site's "Death Records" logos at the bottoms of most pages. Another startling find was made last week by Vinnie Rattolle: a clip of Williams singing The Hell Of It on an episode of the long forgotten The Brady Bunch Hour. In the clip, Williams gets to menace Peter and Greg Brady, and sings the song amidst a chorus of female dancers in costumes that could have come right out of Phantom Of The Paradise. Hearing Williams sing lyrics like, "Good for nothing, bad in bed, nobody likes you and you're better off dead" on such a cheery family variety show is somewhat surreal. Special bonus link: check out Vinnie Rattolle's unearthing of a couple of Carrie-era commercials featuring Betty Buckley and P.J. Soles.

Posted by Geoff at 4:54 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 4:31 PM CDT
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Monday, March 16, 2009
Today's Chicago Tribune featured letters to the editor debating the newspaper's interview last week with Gary Sinise, in which Sinise criticized Brian De Palma as having been "out to get the troops" by making 2007's Redacted. All three letters printed today expressed support for Sinise's general backing of U.S. soldiers, but the first one, written by Chicago's Roger Shiels, took a dismissive swipe at De Palma, linking him and his film to Jane Fonda's controversial protests of the Vietnam war in the early 1970s:

Hats off to Mr. Sinise. As for director Brian De Palma, no wonder he had no comment. He was probably sequestered in his basement watching Jane Fonda workout videos.

The third and final letter, from Terry Green, president of Strata Productions, suggested that Sinise was hurting his own cause by "bashing Hollywood war films":

If Mr. Sinise had seen Redacted, he would know that it's a reminder of the cost of war and that its director, Brian De Palma, doesn't "hate the American military," but is highly critical of the system of government that created the situation that is the subject of his film.

And while I think almost all war movies today are anti-war propaganda films and many of them exploitative, they're essential because they create a dialogue, which hopefully leads to solutions.

I don't want Mr. Sinise to stop using his celebrity to shed light on the heroic efforts of our soldiers, but bashing Hollywood war films only hurts his cause.

The story is the death and destruction of war.

Anything less is a distortion of the truth.

Posted by Geoff at 5:12 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Exactly nine years ago today, Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars was released in theaters. It was the second time De Palma worked with actor Gary Sinise, who had appeared in De Palma's Snake Eyes just two years earlier. It doesn't look like the pair will be making any films together anytime soon.

Sinise, who has been performing with his band, the Lt. Dan Band, for troops in Iraq through USO tours since 2003, is executive producer of a new documentary about the current Iraq conflict, Brothers At War. The film is directed by Jake Rademacher, who took his camera to Iraq to follow around his two younger brothers, who are U.S. soldiers. Sinise is interviewed about the film in today's Chicago Tribune by Robert K. Elder, who mentions that Sinise has also made a documentary covering his own time in Iraq for Fox News. Sinise, who told Elder that he has "a profound respect for people who serve," also said that Brothers At War "is not going to be your typical blood-and-guts, negative, depressing thing about Iraq. What's great about this film is there's a personal investment, because the filmmaker is making it about his family."

However, Sinise was fuming to Elder about De Palma, saying that with Redacted (which, shades of Fox News, Sinise has not even seen!) the director "was out to get the troops, to depict them as child rapists. That's the truth he wanted to tell. That's one particular, horrible episode that happened by, clearly, some criminals who happen to be in the American military." Sinise continued...

"There are 150,000 people serving honorably, but Brian De Palma didn't care to show those stories," Sinise says.

His venom catches me off guard, not only because De Palma directed Sinise in both Mission to Mars and Snake Eyes, but also because Sinise says he never saw Redacted.

"I wouldn't see that film. I knew he had a very political agenda with making that film to make the American military look really, really horrible," he says.

"Brian De Palma hates the American military."

[De Palma a la Mod editor's note: Sinise may or may not be drawing some insight here from working on De Palma's Snake Eyes, in which Sinise's Navy Commander character is in charge of a conspiracy to assassinate the Secretary of Defense over the impending cancellation of a missile project that Sinise's character is deeply in favor of, as he feels the project is important to the protection of his fellow soldiers.]

Elder's article continues... 

A call to the office of De Palma's agent for a response elicits this: "Mr. De Palma has no comment. Thanks."

Sinise says he has never discussed Redacted with the filmmaker, but it doesn't appear the two will be working together any time soon.

Sinise's criticism didn't stop there. Brothers at War, he says, is "not a journalist going out there looking for the story he's trying to tell. There are many, many points of view and many sides. Unfortunately, you have to dig deep to find a balanced perspective."

I suggest that the military may have credibility problems, especially after it twisted the otherwise heroic stories of former prisoner of war Pvt. Jessica Lynch and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was shot and killed by fellow soldiers. The military lied to the country and their families for public-relations purposes. "I don't think the truth wins out in either case," I say.

After a pause, Sinise says, "You're right," then counters: "And for every one of those, you have 50 other [positive] stories. Unfortunately, bad news sells. If two houses are standing there, and one of them is on fire, the reporter is going to write about the one that's on fire—not the peaceful house that's nicely painted."

"Because that's not news," I offer. The news, in part, provides cautionary tales, such as how to keep your house from burning.

But we're in a war where people are serving honorably, Sinise says. "Those stories need to be told."

In the article, Elder describes Redacted as "an award-winning but divisive drama about soldiers who raped a young Iraqi girl." Of course, the idea that De Palma was "out to get the troops" is utter nonsense. In Redacted, De Palma makes no bones about the idea that the soldiers who performed these criminal acts had no business being in the military in the first place. He places an individual soldier of integrity at the heart of the movie who attempts to stop the crimes from being committed, and is wracked with guilt over the incident, which comes to represent for him the senselessness of the killing all over Iraq. De Palma's stated purpose with the film was to end the war, plain and simple. While I respect Sinise and what he does for the troops, his criticism of this film he refuses to see is blind and hollow.

Posted by Geoff at 10:35 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, March 12, 2009 1:00 PM CDT
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Thursday, March 5, 2009

It's been a great week for writing about specific Brian De Palma films. First up, a most insightful piece about De Palma's latest, Redacted, from The Celluloid Liberation Front, courtesy Vertigo Magazine:

Departing from the contemporary paradigm of technological convergence, whereby every observer is at the same time an observed subject, De Palma illustrates the spread of a culture of exhibitionism as the potential telematic evolution of cinematographic voyeurism. Terrorism is, occidentally rather than accidentally, gaudy and voyeuristic...

Redacted is a film that we could (and perhaps should) have made ourselves in front of a computer. In the You Tube era we are the editors of our own ongoing works, that we constantly assemble through the potentially meaningful intersections offered by the net whenever we connect to it. As Baudrillard had provocatively warned us during the first Gulf War, the practice of warfare is indivisible from its narrative and representational strategies, with the latter indeed retroacting with the actual forms of war according to the given cultural situation.

That is why Redacted is a masterpiece of congruency between form and content. For De Palma, Redacted represents a sort of return to the subversive insolence characterising his early films such as Greetings or Hi, Mom, where he would mix super-8 family footage and the fleeting lightness of underground comics with the anarchic structure of the freest ‘nouvelle vague’, always stimulating The Responsive Eye (the title of one of his early shorts about an optical art exhibition) that needs to know what is happening (in Iraq).

Next up, Drew McWeeny posted an essay Tuesday about De Palma's Blow Out as part of his Motion/Captured Must-See series:

The film opens with a truly hilarious movie-within-the-movie called "Coed Frenzy." Oh, god, how I wish De Palma had really made "Coed Frenzy," because it looks like the sleaziest film ever made. And at the end of this five minutes of uber-slasher footage, De Palma pops the balloon with a joke. But that joke has two punchlines, and the other one's not delivered until the closing frames of the film, where it's finally deployed to devastating effect...

Obviously, this film draws on influences like the Chappaquidick tragedy involving Ted Kennedy and the JFK assassination and the French '60s hit Blow-Up, but De Palma mixes all of these elements into a paranoid thriller that feels original, and not just like a bunch of pieces jammed together. Setting it in Philadelphia during "Liberty Day," a patriotic holiday that bathes the whole world in red, white, and blue, De Palma uses this simple thriller plot to peel back the entire subtext of the post-Watergate '70s. There were any number of "don't trust the government" thrillers made after Richard Nixon and his army of clowns bungled the break-in and shattered America's trust in its leaders permanently, but this film raises the stakes by suggesting that absolutely no one is to be trusted.

And just today, Scott Tobias posted a wonderful essay about De Palma's Femme Fatale as part of his weekly A.V. Club series, "The New Cult Canon":

Every year at the Toronto Film Festival—and quite possibly at other festivals around the world, major or minor—director Brian De Palma can be spotted shuffling around with the rest of the press and industry folks, slipping inconspicuously into one screening after another. If he weren’t a semi-celebrity (at least among nerdy cineastes like me), he’d fit the prototypical profile of a festival critic: Bearded and schlubby, outfitted in comfy jeans and old running shoes, bleary-eyed from dragging himself through four to six screenings a day. Point being, he remains a voracious cinephile, and what’s more, he as much as any filmmaker alive sees the world through the prism of other movies. Detractors like to tar him as a vulgarian and a hack, someone who cribs ideas from masters like Hitchcock and updates them through modern-day explicitness and empty formalism. But he’s really more like his badge-wearing brethren at the film festival, a critic who happens to work behind the camera, commenting on the medium’s history, devices, and tropes while taking a jaundiced view of the world at large. If there’s such a thing as a “wonky” director, De Palma fits the bill better than anybody.

Even by De Palma standards, Femme Fatale is about as wonky as it gets, and if that isn’t apparent enough in its movie-movie title, there’s also the opening shot of De Palma’s femme fatale, an icy blonde played by Rebecca Romijn (while she was still Stamos-ed), watching the noir classic Double Indemnity on television, perhaps to pick up pointers from Barbara Stanwyck, cinema’s reigning double-crosser. And this is before the curtains open on a magnificent setpiece at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, the same festival where Femme Fatale itself would première a year later. It hurts the brain to consider the many layers of artifice De Palma is piling on just in the first few minutes, but for what’s essentially an academic exercise, the film is an awful lot of fun...

At the moment that Laure/Lily seems to meet her maker in the Seine, we’re suddenly thrust back in time seven years ago, when Laure met Lily, and Lily’s suicide set her fate on the track we’ve followed. Suddenly, the movie itself has a doppelgänger, except now Lily can take Laure’s path, and the world can change in the minor but crucial ways that will set everything right. It seems crazy for De Palma to cast Laure’s adventures as an extended dream of what might have been (“I’m your fucking fairy godmother,” she tells Lily. “I just dreamt your future, and mine too”), but he’s been preparing you for it the whole time, from little details like the “Deju Vue” posters rolled out on the Paris streets to the general feeling that you’re watching a movie about movies. And as you know, in movies, anything can happen.

Also of note, courtesy of the Atlantic Film Festival Association's Ron Foley Macdonald: Dionysus In '69, the film of the Performance Group theatre production that De Palma made with Robert Fiore and Bruce Rubin, can now be watched on the web (but not downloaded) for educational purposes via the NYU HIDVL website. To see the video, you have to go to the main page first, and then do a search for Dionysus In '69. Macdonald provides some interesting information about the film, including the following tidbit:

Dionysus In 69’s bracketing orgy scenes, however, are still pretty shocking to watch. They were originally done with the actors completely naked; for De Palma’s filming the men donned black jockstraps while the women wore flimsy and torn--but still skimpy--short tops and bottoms.

Posted by Geoff at 10:53 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, March 5, 2009 10:56 PM CST
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Monday, March 2, 2009
Every review of Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah mentions Brian De Palma's Scarface, and for solid reasons: two characters in the film go around Naples acting out scenes from Scarface. The film is based on the book of the same name by Roberto Saviano, who has been under 24-hour armed protection since 2006, when his book, which peers unblinkingly into the Camorra Mafia, became a bestseller and the author was besieged by death threats. Fellow author Salmon Rushdie, who was famously condemned to death by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 and went into hiding when his novel, The Satanic Verses, was deemed by Khomeini as insulting to Islam, told reporters in Rome last October that Saviano is in even greater danger than Rushdie had been, because the reach of the Camorra is incredibly expansive.

In Saviano's book, he spends some time delving into the relationship between the Comorra and Hollywood, finding that it is not Hollywood reflecting reality, but the other way around. Here is an excerpt in which Saviano walks through the former mansion of one Mafia boss who had given his architect a copy of De Palma's Scarface because he wanted Tony Montana's villa, "exactly as it was in the movie," a villa, Saviano states, that everyone calls Hollywood. However, after being caught by the police, the boss had everything removed because, as Saviano writes, "If he couldn't use it, it shouldn't exist. Either his or no one's"...

He had the doors taken off their hinges, the windows removed, the parquet taken up, the marble pulled off the stairs, the expensive fireplace mantels disassembled. Ceramic bathroom fixtures, wood railings, light fixtures, and kitchen appliances were removed, and antique furniture, china closets, and paintings carried off. He gave orders to strew the house with tires and set them on fire, ruining the plaster and damaging the columns. Even so, he managed to leave a message. The only thing left untouched was a bathtub, sitting on three wide steps in the living room. A princely version, with a lion's face that roared water. The boss's great indulgence. The tub sat right in front of a Palladian window that looked directly onto the garden. A sign of his power as builder and Camorrista, like an artist who cancels out his painting but leaves his signature on the canvas.

As I wandered through those blackened rooms, I felt my chest swell, as if my insides had become one giant heart. It beat harder and harder, pumping through my entire body. My mouth had gone dry from the deep breaths I took to calm my anxiety. If some clan sentinel had jumped me and beaten me to a pulp, I could have squealed like a butchered pig but no one would have heard me. Evidently no one saw me enter, or maybe no one was guarding the villa anymore. A pulsating rage rose up inside me. Flashing in my mind, like a giant swirl of fragmented visions, were the images of friends who had emigrated, joined the clan or the military, the lazy afternoons in these desert lands, the lack of everything except deals, politicians mopped up by corruption, and empires built in the north of Italy and half of Europe, leaving behind nothing but trash and toxins. I needed to vent, to take it out on someone. I couldn't resist. I stood on the edge of the tub and took a piss. An idiotic gesture, but as my bladder emptied, I felt better. That villa was the confirmation of a cliché, the concrete realization of a rumor. I had the absurd sensation that Tony Montana was about to come out of one of the rooms and greet me with a stiff, arrogant gesture: "All I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don;t break them for no one, you understand?" Who knows if Walter dreamed of dying like Montana too, riddled with bullets and tumbling into his front hall rather than ending his days in a prison cell, consumed by Graves' disease, his eyes rotting and his blood pressure exploding.

Saviano goes on in this chapter to relate how the movies are studied by generations of bosses and criminals who want to carve out an image for themselves. The author provides examples of these from several films, including The Godfather ("Before the film came out," writes Saviano, "no one in the Sicilian or Campania criminal organizations had ever used the term padrino"), Il camorrista ("The film's sound track has become a sort of Camorra theme song, whistled when a neighborhood capo walks by, or just to make a shopkeeper nervous"), Good Fellas (Saviano imagines one scene flashing in a would-be gangster's mind as he meets his death), The Crow (one man wore clothes reminiscent of Brandon Lee's in that film), Pulp Fiction (Camorra killers have started holding their guns crooked, the way they do in Tarantino's film, which makes them horrible shooters for which they compensate by leaving a bloody mess everywhere), Kill Bill (bodyguards for female bosses dress like Uma Thurman's character), Nikita (one woman's nickname), and even Taxi Driver (two young bullies would start fights with a look, and then repeat after Robert De Niro's famous lines from that film: "You talkin' to me?").

Those two bullies are the characters in the film mentioned at the top of this post. In early January, it was announced that Martin Scorsese would lend his name in support of IFC Films' U.S. release of Garrone's Gomorrah, which opened in select U.S. theaters this past weekend. "Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah is a tough, forceful look at the Neapolitan underworld," Scorsese told the Hollywood Reporter. "I admire the bluntness of this picture and the devotion of Garrone and his actors in their pursuit of a terrible truth. Gomorrah is despairing, but it's also enlightening and, because of its frankness, strangely heartening." Garrone responded, "I have been waiting for some time for the chance to thank Martin Scorsese publicly for the courage and generosity he has shown in laying his support on the line for Gomorrah. I can't forget how deeply touched I was seeing him arrive for the presentation of the film; of all directors, he is one of the most important in my development as a filmmaker. I am therefore extremely proud that the film has found such a prestigious adoptive father, and I will certainly cherish this memory for all time."

What follows are links to several reviews of Garrone's film, with selected excerpts:

Anthony Lane at the New Yorker

There is a pair of teen-agers, Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone), fools in love with a gangsterish ideal; “I’m No. 1! Tony Montana!” they cry, acting out their pantomime of Scarface in an empty tenement, where a sunken, unused bath echoes not just old Brian De Palma movies but much older tubs, in the balneae of Pompeii, across the bay...

Garrone’s film is less furious than Saviano’s book, which has the tang of personal nausea, and for that reason, I suspect, it will prove more enduring. (It failed to make the nominations for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards: the usual travesty.) As I watched various Scampians being slain or spared on a whim, I felt borne along not so much by reportage, however well dramatized, as by a fierce meditation on the vagaries of fate—and thus, oddly enough, by the pull of comedy. When Franco, in a cathedral-size quarry, needs a new set of truck drivers to shift his drums of corrosive chemicals, whom does he call? Local children, who perch on cushions to see through the windshield; in a way, they make better mafiosi than the adults, yielding with less caution and complaint to their instinctual urges. There is a terrible numbness to the grownups, spun in the endless cycle of revenge; “We don’t know anything” is the conclusion of one group, which agrees to press ahead with murder, for want of another plan. I’m not sure that, after this movie, I will be able to take quite such unquestioning pleasure in the suave, all-knowing dons of the Godfather trilogy, let alone the stylized brutality of Scarface; the spoiled earth of Gomorrah is the ground zero of Mob cinema, burning away the sleekness and self-congratulation of the genre.

Armond White at the New York Press

Director Matteo Garrone pretends to expose Camorra, the vicious Neapolitan version of the Mafia that has ravaged contemporary Italian society. His title’s clever reference to Sodom and Gomorrah decadence implies biblical judgment. But Gomorrah’s five interlocking stories are told with slow, almost obscenely casual regard. Garment worker Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) tries to outfox the mob; Gaetano (Vincenzo Altamura) double-crosses a gang; young thugs Sweet Pea and Pitbull (Salvatore Ruocco and Vincenzo Fabricino) embark on a mini-war against townspeople while defying veteran hoods; and teenage delivery-boy Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese) chooses dangerous role models. Garrone’s mix of local color, environmental anarchy and sensationalism is prurient; Gomorrah always heads toward awful, inevitable moments of deception and vengeance.

In the Godfather films, Coppola’s revelations of our deepest thoughts about law, order and human weakness were enthralling. That’s why the three-thousand gangster movies The Godfather inspired don’t measure up—and why Coppola’s trilogy still feels definitive.

Chuck Williamson at Out 1 Film Journal

While it did not “reinvent the wheel” of contemporary gangster cinema, Brian De Palma’s Scarface nonetheless underlined in thick, bold strokes the genre’s internal frictions and contradictions. Scarface amplified the genre’s basest elements, reimagining its narrative as a sensationalistic, overstuffed, Grand Guignol cartoon that forced audiences to confront, up front and personal, the paradox implicit within all mob movies: the glamorization of the gangster. Because of its lack of nuance and subtlety, De Palma’s film made those once inconspicuous contradictions more explicit. Scarface, like most gangster films, turned its antagonist into an icon of cool, a two-fisted merchant of death with both charisma and cojones—and no amount of anti-crime moralizing could cancel out the intrinsic allure of such a character. For all the bullet wounds and moralizing of its “crime doesn’t pay” third act, the film largely functions as a male adolescent fantasy, a fever dream concoction where decadent materialism is rewarded, macho posturing leads to steamy sex (with nudity!), enemies are mowed down in satisfying spurts of splatter-gore, and men speak in expletive-laced bon mots like, “This town is a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked.”

Loaded with both implicit and explicit references to Scarface, Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra reappropriates the pop-culture image of gangster cool and makes visible its seams, cracks, and inherent hollowness.

In its most memorable scene, two skinny, anemic-looking teenagers—Marco and Ciro—strip down to their underwear, stroll through a riverbank, and crudely reenact Scarface’s final shoot-out sequence with a pair of stolen semi-automatic weapons. “You sounded just like Tony Montana,” one says to the other, but nothing could be further from the truth. Using Scarface as a “how-to” manual, these two boys may have memorized the film’s macho swagger and f-bomb sloganeering, but their ritual still comes across as a children’s game, a media-constructed façade that fails to mask the authentic image of two vulnerable, naked youths. They are pathetic, juvenile, a pair of children pretending to be big, bad gangsters—and despite their reprehensibility, they remain somewhat sympathetic, as they have bought into the false constructs of Hollywood and will, of course, pay the consequences. While the scene could be described as both self-reflexive and revisionist, it also carries an undercurrent of tragedy, as their inevitable (and bloody) downfall seems designed right from the first pull of a trigger.

R. Kurt Osenlund at Your Movie Buddy

Gomorrah redefines the mob flick because it shows a criminal association not as it might be, but as it is. Still, Garrone isn't above giving a nod to his genre predecessors, namely Brian De Palma and his immortal Pacino vehicle, Scarface. The brief opening sequence has a tacky neon opulence reminiscent of the cult classic – even the title logo goes from red to “Vice City” pink – and, later, the delinquent duo play with empty pistols in an empty warehouse and pretend to be Tony Montana. What would Tony say if he saw Gomorrah? Fuhgeddaboutit? No way. Not this merciless movie. It sticks with you for days.

Christy Lemire at Associated Press

Two cocky Italian teenagers run around their dilapidated Naples neighborhood, melodramatically riffing on Scarface lines to each other: "Now it has to be ours, the whole world. Miami, all of it."

They're certainly no more over-the-top than Al Pacino. But this is the closest director and co-writer Matteo Garrone comes to any sort of traditional, Hollywoodized depiction of mob life in Gomorrah.

It's appropriate, though, that Brian De Palma's bloody epic is the source of inspiration for wannabe thugs Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone). That film, and the genre in general, are so entrenched in contemporary pop culture that they've become a source of self-parody.

That's what's so compelling about Gomorrah: It upends everything you think you know about the mob, and mob movies.

Steve Erickson at Gay City News

In a sense, Gomorrah is a humanist gangster film. It goes out of its way to avoid glamorizing the Mafia - among recent films, only Johnnie To's Election and Triad Election have presented a grimmer version of organized crime.

Just to make sure we get the point, Gomorrah has two of its characters constantly quote dialogue from Brian De Palma's Scarface and compare themselves to its anti-hero, Tony Montana. No doubt they missed the memo that Scarface was intended as a critique of '80s excess and greed. Italian director Matteo Garrone clearly doesn't want anyone to make the same mistake with his film.

Ironically, despite its humanism, Gomorrah could hardly be more nihilistic. It veers among five different storylines. If the Mafia angle isn't immediately apparent in each one, it soon becomes clear. The screenplay never brings these narrative threads together; in a post-Paul Haggis climate, that's something for which we can be grateful. However, this is the kind of film where no one takes any moral stances until two hours have passed.

Greg Oguss at LA Snark

The Scarface references aren’t arguing the case that violent entertainment begets violent children or the truism about contemporary gangsters taking their cues from movie gangsters. Instead, they merely make an effective contrast between De Palma’s romantic vision and a milieu without any charismatic anti-heroes or blaze-of-glory deaths, where loyalties are never taken seriously enough to be betrayed. Even the few functionaries who walk away from the corrupt empire by the story’s end lack nobility, with their paths determined principally by cowardice and naiveté. Despite being well-versed in the bloody justice doled out by the mafia, the film’s myopic characters have little understanding of how completely the illegal and legal businesses of the Camorra shape their existence. Gomorrah’s end-titles offer a tally of official statistics to illustrate the Camorra’s social costs, suggesting that, by certain measures, this is the most criminally violent place on the planet. But the film offers no scenes of anti-mafia police efforts and the collective struggle required to change the region’s way of life is beyond the imagination.

J. Hoberman at the Village Voice

Martin Scorsese may be presenting Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah, but this corrosive, slapdash, grimly exciting exposé of organized crime in and around Naples comes on like Mean Streets cubed. Detailing daily life inside a criminal state, it's a new sort of gangster film for America to ponder...

In a vacant lot outside the fortress walls, two skinny teenagers play at being the antihero of Brian De Palma's Scarface. That's the fantasy; robbing African crack dealers is the reality, after which the two aspiring gangsters dance in scurvy triumph on some gray-sand beach. Their dreams come true when they stumble upon a cache of weapons, including AK-47s and a bazooka. Meanwhile, the Camorra expands into legitimate businesses, from garbage disposal to haute couture.

Garrone skips from one Camorra scam to another, all plots climaxing amid inexplicable internecine warfare in a more or less simultaneous reckoning. Gomorrah's episodic, mosaic structure is in some ways comparable to Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, but Garrone is not so much interested in diagramming a process as mapping a specific terrain. Despite its vivid characterizations, the movie stays on the surface—or, rather, it offers a sort of neorealist reportage. (Occasionally, the sober frenzy indulges in the sort of grotesque humor Garrone employed in his 2002 black comedy The Embalmer, wherein the Camorra enlists a professional taxidermist to stitch a shipment of drugs into a corpse.) The undistinguished visual style is predicated on a jittery wide-screen SteadiCam. There's a sense that Garrone's bobbing and weaving camera is just hanging with the homies—a strategy akin to Saviano's in his first-person book.

Saviano devotes an entire chapter to detailing the often-comic Camorrista fascination with Hollywood gangster flicks—mainly De Palma's Scarface, but also The Godfather, GoodFellas, and Pulp Fiction. "It's not the movie world that scans the criminal world for the most interesting behavior," he writes. "The exact opposite is true." Garrone has taken this to heart. Characterized as it is by a total absence of antiheroic glamour, his unsentimentally tough and unrelentingly squalid movie is unlikely to inspire much real-world imitation.

Posted by Geoff at 11:18 AM CST
Updated: Monday, March 2, 2009 11:22 AM CST
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Friday, February 27, 2009
Time Out New York's The Frame-Up blog has been running a series this week called "NYC Antiheroes," in which Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle represents "ground zero," according to blog host Joshua Rothkopf, who states that Martin Scorsese's film is "about a man who fails at being a New Yorker." In today's entry, Keith Uhlich interprets the New York of Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way as a "metaphorical prison" that uses everything and everyone from Carlito's past as barriers to the freedom he can ultimately only dream of. Here is how Uhlich eloquently puts it:

Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) has a dollar and a dream. He just needs a little more ($75,000 to be exact) so he can leave his criminal past behind, retire to the tropics, and buy into a car rental dealership. Destiny has other plans for him, but we know this from the start: The first image is Carlito getting shot down in Grand Central Station. The film that follows is his dying-moments reminiscence. A Proustian whirlwind begins in a courtroom, where Carlito is released from jail on a technicality, only to enter another, more metaphorical prison: a city greatly changed from the way he left it. It’s easy to relate to the desire to escape New York, its towering edifices and worlds-within-worlds, as oppressive as they are awe-inspiring. Carlito’s instincts still serve him well in this environment, but they’re now more a force of habit than a true moral code. He’s ready to move on, in body and spirit, even if his aim to please his friends (Sean Penn as sleazy lawyer David Kleinfeld) and lovers (Penelope Ann Miller as whispery-voiced dancer Gail) prevents him from saying so. It’s obvious that there is no exit for him. Befitting director Brian De Palma, Carlito’s death rattle is at once a sublime joke and a cutting indictment of dreamy, age-addled nostalgia, while Pacino’s performance (one of his wizened best) complements De Palma’s acid tongue with quiet dignity.

Posted by Geoff at 3:38 PM CST
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